If you lead others, you’re in the change business, and that means you will face your fair share of resistance. People will reject your ideas, fight the direction you want to go, disregard your expectations for new behaviors and more. Dealing with resistance is a normal part of leadership.
When you initiate change that involves other people, they will inevitably ask: “What’s in it for me?” Until you provide them with a satisfactory answer to that question, the odds that they will continue to push back against your changes remain pretty high.
This concept is probably not new to you. Still, many new leaders fail in their efforts to answer the question effectively for a very simple reason: They fall prey to what behavioral analysts call “perception error.”
Perception error is the tendency to misread other people’s perspectives and motivations by assuming that they do things or are motivated by the same things that you are. For example, I am very factual and data driven. If I am not very careful, I tend to provide people with far more information than they care about. When I do that, I’m telling them what’s important to me rather than what’s important to them. I fall victim to my own perception error.
To overcome perception error, you must match your word choice, tone, pace, level of detail and energy level to the person receiving the message. When you do that well, you improve the odds that they fully understand how they will benefit from the changes, rather than how you, as the leader, will benefit.
Here are some tips to help you do this more effectively:
- Match your vocal pace to theirs. If they tend to speak quickly, then speak quickly. If they speak more slowly, then slow down.
- Use words they use. For example, if they talk about how they feel about the change, talk about feelings and emotions. Make sure you smile and use more stories than facts to relay your vision of how things will improve or work once you implement the change. If they talk about what they think about the change, talk about thoughts and facts more than about feelings. Stay focused on projected results, data and the value the change will bring about.
- Focus on them. Most important, make them the focal point of the conversation. In order to transform resistance into acceptance, answer “What’s in it for me?” as soon as possible. When you give the answer, deliver it in a way that people see the personal, positive benefits of the change from their perspective.
Be upfront about the challenges they will face, but also highlight how the change will benefit each of them specifically. Describe how they will be more productive, better able to hit targets, less overwhelmed and so on. You don’t want to sugarcoat the negative aspects of the change, but you do want to emphasize that any hardships will be worth it in the long run.
- Act now. There is no time like the present to move forward with initiatives that will improve your team. Outline on paper a change you want to make. Then, layout a plan for communicating that change to employees.
Who will be affected by the change and how? What challenges will they face? How will they ultimately benefit? What objections are they likely to have? Do they speak quickly or more methodically? Do they focus on results and facts or emotions and relationships?
For each person or group of people, tailor a message about the change that will very quickly answer “What’s in it for me?” and increase your chances of gaining their support from the get-go. While that seems like work, a little thought and practice beforehand can drastically improve conversations about change, reduce resistance to it, gain employees’ buy-in and even build enthusiasm for the change.
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